|Pomme de Terre United Methodist Church|
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|"The Faithful Beggar"
About fifteen or twenty
years ago there was a book that spent quite a long time on the
best-seller list--and you’ve probably heard me refer to it
before--entitled The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by
Stephen R. Covey.
The book has much to recommend it, but this morning I want to discuss only the first habit that Covey deals with. Covey tells us that highly effective people are "proactive."
And since that is not a word that we hear frequently, let me try to explain it by its opposite: "reactive." Most of us know what "reaction" is, because that is what we spend most of our lives doing. We "react."
Now that's not a bad thing. In fact, it's perfectly normal. When we are hungry, we seek food. When we are cold, we seek additional clothing or shelter. When we have needs, we try to meet them. Physical survival is based on an ongoing string of reactions.
Unfortunately, we carry this process of reaction to extremes. Too often we wait for events to happen before we act. Instead of actively--or proactively--attempting to lead healthy lives, we wait until disease strikes, and then we react to it.
Instead of proactively preparing ourselves for the future, we wait until something happens to us and react to it.
But it is easier to be reactive than to be proactive. It is easier to live in the present--or the past--than to try to anticipate the future. And sometimes, being proactive can be risky.
Sometimes a fine line divides reaction from proaction. Indeed, sometimes a bit of both is involved in what we do.
For example, is our prayer life reactive or proactive? or a little bit of both? We have heard of instances, maybe have even participated in them, when people turned to prayer as a "last resort."
Prayer was a "reaction" in desperation. And we should probably be asking, "Why not turn to prayer FIRST?" Indeed, why not be in a proactive mode of praying without ceasing?
But, let's get down to cases. In the forty-sixth verse of the tenth chapter of the gospel according to Mark, we read that "They [meaning Jesus and his disciples] came to Jericho.
As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside."
Now let's consider, for a moment, this crowd: is this a reactive or a proactive group? Are they just along for the ride? What is their motivation?
I suspect that there were many genuine followers of Jesus. But I also suspect that there were many curiosity-seekers. And there may have been many who weren't quite sure WHAT they were doing.
But whatever the case, THEY are leaving Jericho; and Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, is sitting by the roadside. HE is not going anywhere. Although he might like to.
Indeed, many of those who are wandering down the road may be less sure of where they WANT to go than is this blind beggar who is just sitting by the side of the road. If we have sight and legs to walk, it is easy to reactively follow whoever comes along. But if we are WITHOUT sight, it is difficult to follow or strike out on our own path.
Bartimaeus may be dreaming dreams of what he might do if he had sight. And his dreams may be more creative and imaginative than many of those who are wandering down the road behind Jesus.
So somebody tells Bartimaeus what is happening. Or, maybe he overhears some conversation. Because,
"When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Bartimaeus may be blind, but he knows what is happening. And he knows who Jesus is. And he knows what Jesus can do and has done.
By the way, this is the first time in Mark's Gospel that we hear anything of Jesus as a descendant of David. But it sets the stage for the next chapter, in which Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the crowds proclaim him as being of the House of David.
But notice something else. Bartimaeus is not making a specific request. His cry is simply, "Have mercy on me!"
Indeed, I am reminded of what has traditionally been called the "Jesus prayer." Its words are, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Or, in a shortened form, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me."
For Bartimaeus this is a cry for help, a cry for recognition. But it is also the kind of prayer that all of us should be praying if we are proactive about out prayer.
Knowing that in so many ways we have sinned and fallen short, and will indeed, in spite of our best efforts, continue to do so, we need to be praying, "have mercy on me."
In the prayer that Jesus taught us, we say the words, "Thy will be done." We don't unload a laundry list on God. We aren't reactively asking God to do lots of specific things. But we are asking God, "Have mercy on me."
Well, Bartimaeus' behavior does not go over well with others.
"Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Folks want this poor blind beggar to go away and stop being a nuisance. Shut up and sit down. Behave yourself. Maybe they think that what he is doing is bad manners.
Or maybe they think that this will be offensive to Jesus. Maybe they thought that he was getting in the way of the order of things.
When we seek God's will--"have mercy on me"--or when we seek to follow Jesus, there will ALWAYS be someone who will wish that we would be quiet. Or if we must make noises, that we make DIFFERENT noises, noises that are more pleasing to them.
And many times we ARE like Bartimaeus; we are blind. We cannot SEE the future, we can only HOPE for it. I think that the local church, is a good example. As we look toward the future, we cannot clearly see it, but we can ENVISION it.
And in our actions, our prayers, our planning, we are reaching out to God for God's will--"have mercy on me!" But there will be those who will sternly order us to be quiet. They will wish that we would stop doing what we are doing. They will disagree with our visions, doubt them, wish they would go away. And when that happens, we must follow Bartimaeus' example, who "cried out even more loudly."
Now this does not mean that we will always be right in everything we do. But if we are seeking God's will, we can count on getting God's attention.
"Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you."
And what a sudden change of attitude! The same folks who had been saying "shut up" are now saying "get up." But look what shouting out to Jesus, and crying out even more loudly when rebuked by others, got the blind beggar: "Jesus stood still."
And just as Jesus was listening to Bartimaeus, so God is listening to us. When we cry out to God, and cry out even more loudly when others try to silence us, God IS listening.
I find it amusing that those around Bartimaeus are telling him to "Take heart." If anyone HAS taken heart already it is Bartimaeus. If Bartimaeus had not been faithful and optimistic to begin with, he would not have continued to cry out.
But more important here is the fact that when Jesus recognized Bartimaeus, OTHERS recognized Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus had to struggle to achieve this, but he DID achieve it. And as we reach out to God with our plans and schemes and dreams and visions--and we genuinely seek God's will--when God recognizes what we desire as being in accordance with God's desires, OTHERS will come to recognize that also.
But the key to this lies in our persistence, in spite of others who would put us down.
And if Bartimaeus can sit, at the side of the road, blind, unable to know what is happening apart from the noise of the crowd, yet persist in crying out "have mercy on me" in spite of those who would seek to shut him up-----it would seem that we should be likewise capable of reaching out to seek God's will for ourselves and our church.
"So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus."
Now, contrast this with a story that took place earlier in the same chapter of Mark. A rich man came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. So Jesus told him. "Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, then come, follow me." Well, the man did not like that idea. And scripture tells us that he "went away grieving, for he had many possessions." In contrast, Bartimaeus cloak was probably ALL that he owned, and he threw that off as he "sprang up" to come to Jesus.
Bartimaeus, in calling out "have mercy on me," was genuinely seeking God's will, was prepared to separate himself from his own desires to find that will, was eager to get Jesus' attention.
Now folks, this is scary stuff! We may be willing to pray, "Thy will be done," but are we fully prepared for God's will for us? Bartimaeus threw his cloak aside and sprang up. Are we prepared to imitate that behavior?
Actually, I think we are. Because when we become proactive--there's that word again--in seeking God's will, God helps to prepare us. Bartimaeus sought God's will, and continued to cry out for it when others tried to silence him. As he did so, he was strengthened in his faith, and was prepared when Jesus said, "Call him here."
So Bartimaeus has now come to Jesus, is standing before him; and if you have not been paying attention, what follows may seem a bit strange.
"Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again."
It might seem strange that Jesus would ask that question of a blind man. But please remember that Bartimaeus has until now made no specific request. He has only cried out, "have mercy on me."
Now, does this passage of scripture mean that Jesus is always prepared to ask us "What do you want me to do for you?" I don't think so. I believe that Bartimaeus set the stage for Jesus to ask that question. And I also think that Jesus KNEW what Bartimaeus would ask for.
I believe Bartimaeus demonstrates two important qualities here: persistent faithfulness and a desire for God's will. And when we can demonstrate those qualities, I think God is asking us, "What do you want me to do for you?"
So Bartimaeus wants to see.
"Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way."
Isn't that simple? "Your faith has made you well." Well, it sounds simpler than it is. Because deep within Bartimaeus was a yearning for God's will above all else, as expressed in his plea, "have mercy on me." And as WE seek God's will for our personal lives and for the life of our church--as we GENUINELY seek it in all our deeds and prayers--we too will be hearing, "What do you want me to do for you?"
But in the meantime, if, in our efforts to be faithful we should hear, as did Bartimaeus, others sternly order us to be quiet, let us take heart, knowing that God is prepared, as was Jesus, to stand still and call us to him.
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